Golf: World's best like Houghton course

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TIGER WOODS may be missing, but the rest of the big four in world golf have arrived for the Alfred Dunhill PGA beginning today at Houghton Course in Johannesburg.

Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Nick Price head the field in an event co-sanctioned by the European and Southern African Tours.

All three have played here before and all have expressed their liking for the course that nestles on the fringes of the city in the suburb of Houghton, where President Nelson Mandela has his private home.

Els, who won the South African Open at Houghton in 1992, was content to take on the challenge with only yesterday's pro-am round behind him. "I've played here since I was a kid," said the world No 3 on his decision to take a few days off after winning last week's South African Open in Durban. "I don't really need to look it over again."

Norman was sure he would be equally at home. "I look forward to playing at Houghton again," said the world No 2, who played the course in the inaugural Alfred Dunhill Challenge - the Ryder Cup-style match between Southern African and Australasian teams - in 1995.

He also has a win in his own tournament - the Greg Norman Invitational in Sydney - last week to take into the event with him.

Price is equally fond of Houghton, having won his first South African PGA title here last year, when he beat the South African David Frost in a play-off.

The Zimbabwean has had some problems with a tooth abcess in the run-up to the tournament, but was more than satisfied with the holes he completed in practice yesterday before going off for treatment.

It is a course that has often produced surprises as it did for Els in 1996, when Germany's Sven Struver won.

Rain shortened the event to 54 holes, but Struver came home in a course record-equalling 63 well in front of the big names on the leaderboard.

Els acknowledges that there are no clear-cut favourites and he warned that the young European players would pose a threat. "There are some very good players out there," he said.

Struver, who has never quite lived up to that win, is back and so is Italy's Costantino Rocca and the Spaniard Ignacio Garrido, who chased Els and Frost hard last week in Durban before falling away in the final round to end in the pack.

The Zimbabwean Mark McNulty is also there among those always challenging and with Frost and Retief Goosen heads a local challenge which also includes Nic Henning and Marco Gortana.

Several members of the European Ryder Cup have pencilled in their names for the Qatar Masters at Doha next month.

The Cup captain Seve Ballesteros and fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal will be joined by Lee Westwood, Ian Woosnam, Darren Clarke, Costantino Rocca and Thomas Bjorn.